A Bench of the Honorable Supreme Court of India in Sandeep Kumar and Others
versus State of Uttarakhand and Another held that the offence of dowry death
under Section 304B of the Indian Penal Code cannot be made out of death has
not been established as unnatural.
The court held that it has to be shown that the deceased wife was subjected to
cruelty or harassment in connection with demand for dowry soon before her death.
The Supreme Court while holding that none of it was established set aside the
conviction and life sentence awarded by the Uttarakhand High Court to the
husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law of the deceased wife under Section
The trial court had acquitted them holding that the offence of dowry death under
Section 304B was not proved. On appeal filed by the father of the deceased
woman, the High Court reversed the acquittal.
When the matter reached the Apex court, the Bench comprising of Honorable
Justice R F Nariman, K M Joseph and Aniruddha Bose set aside the judgment of the
High Court and restored the acquittal.
The judgment explained the ingredients of the offence under Section 304B
including the presumptive clause under Section 113B of the Evidence Act which
comes to the rescue of the prosecutor in cases of dowry death.
The prosecution case was that the deceased had died of poisoning.
The Court held
that this allegation was not proved because:
- The autopsy report didn't conclude that death was due to poisoning.
- There were no traces of poison found in the body of the deceased or at
the crime scene.
- The accused was not found in possession of poison.
The court also made reference to circumstances necessary to prove death by
poisoning, as were laid down in Sharad Birdhi Chand Sarda v. State
of Maharashtra and Anant Lagu v. State of Bombay which are as under:
- There must be a clear motive for the accused to poison the deceased.
- The poison so administered must be the cause of death
- The accused must have been in possession of the poison
- There was an opportunity with the accused to administer the poison to
In the present case the court noted that there is no evidence that the deceased
died of poisoning. Also, there was no evidence to show that the appellants were
in possession of any poison as nothing was recovered by the police from them or
The court noted:
".....As far as the facts of the present case is concerned, we have noticed that
there is absolutely no evidence relating to poison in relation to the deceased.
Were it a case of forcible poisoning, by using a corrosive poison, there would
been some marks. There are none. If it were forcible poisoning by using any kind
of poison, there would be struggle and resistance from the victim..."
".....Even the material (wiper) recovered, according to prosecution, and which
allegedly was used to clean vomit of the deceased, did not disclose any
The court also took into consideration the fact that the trial court had found
that the oral testimonies of the father, brother and some relative of the
deceased regarding the demand for dowry to be contradictory.
Admittedly, there was no demand for dowry at the time of marriage. The Apex
court took note of the fact that even the trial court had held that the husband
asking an amount of ten lakhs for building a house on a promise that he shall
pay it back, cannot be regarded as a demand for dowry. Thus, the presumption
under Section 113B of the Evidence Act shall not apply.
The Apex court held that the High court erred in reversing the acquittal of the
trail court. The High court exceeded the settled position that an acquittal
shouldn't be interfered with by the appellate court merely for the reason that
an alternate view was possible.
Misuse of the anti-dowry law in India
The anti-dowry law in India is the most misused provision under the law. The
Honorable Apex court has even termed its misuse as legal terrorism. The court
in this case remarked that the object of this provision is prevention of the
menace of dowry prevalent in our society. But instances of misuse of the law
have been witnessed in the past and the provision can certainly not be called
In Jasbir Kaur v. State of Haryana the court held that an estranged
wife will go to any extent to rope in as many relatives of the husband as
possible to salvage whatever remains of an estranged relationship.
In Kansraj v. State of Punjab it was held:
For the fault of the
husband, the in-laws or the other relations cannot, in all cases, be held to be
involved in the demand of dowry. In cases where such accusations are made, the
overt acts attributed to persons other than husband are required to be proved
beyond reasonable doubt. By mere conjectures and implications such relations
cannot be held guilty for the offence relating to dowry deaths. A tendency has,
however, developed for roping in all relations of the in-laws of the deceased
wives in the matters of dowry deaths which, if not discouraged, is likely to
affect the case of the prosecution even against the real culprits.
The Karnataka High Court has observed that roping in all the family members
including brothers and sisters-in-law in a case of dowry death is wrong unless
there is specific material against these persons.
It can thus be concluded that the judgment of the Honorable Supreme Court in Sandeep
Kumar and Others versus State of Uttarakhand and Another was a good decision
and a step in the right direction as far as curbing the menace and misuse of
anti-dowry laws in India is concerned.
Written By: Syed Aatif
- Crl. Appeal Nos. 1512-1513 of 2017.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).
- The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, No. 1, Acts of Parliament, 1872 (India).
- AIR 1984 SC 1622 (India).
- AIR 1960 SC 500 (India).
- Sushil Kumar Sharma v. Union of India and others, (2005) 6 SCC 281
- (1990) 2 Rec Cri R 243 (India).
- 2000 CrLJ 2993 (India).
- State v. Srikanth, 2002 CriLJ 3605 (India).
- Supra Note 1.
- The author is a practicing advocate at Central Administrative Tribunal (New Delhi), Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India.
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